July 23rd, 2011
M. Serajul Islam
At her press conference recently, the Foreign Minister explained that the meeting between the Bangladesh Permanent Representative and the Dalai Lama was “unscheduled’. She said that at international conferences, such unscheduled conferences take place and she saw no fault with the “unscheduled” meeting.
No further details have been revealed on this “unscheduled” meeting. It appeared as if the Foreign Minister was referring to some international conference where the Dalai Lama and our Permanent Representative came across each other and held the meeting. A visit to the Dalai Lama’s website has not revealed to me that he was in New York for any international conference. Hence the question where the two met unscheduled remains unanswered.
The issue here is extremely serious for Bangladesh-China relations. The Dalai Lama’s visit to the US this time and particularly his meeting with President Obama at the White House raised more than the usual anger in Beijing. Nevertheless, the President met Dalai Lama for domestic political reasons.
Hence any one with some knowledge of international relations should have been aware that the Chinese would be following this visit under the microscope. Given the Chinese sensitivity with the Dalai Lama and the importance of Sino-Bangladesh bilateral relations, it is unbelievable that a senior Bangladesh diplomat would have an unscheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama.
The Chinese are not going to be too pleased with such an “unscheduled’ meeting either. Of course, they would not be making any fuss about it because as a sovereign country, Bangladesh can allow its Permanent Representative to meet the Dalai Lama even for a scheduled meeting. However, in diplomacy there is a price for exercising such sovereign rights. Chinese are serious customers in the art of diplomacy and they may not be easily convinced that the meeting was unscheduled and leave it at that.
The Permanent Representative in New York has committed a diplomatic faux pas; unwittingly perhaps. The case with our Ambassador in Nepal is quite a different story. From the stories that have come to the media that have not been contradicted by the Foreign Ministry, he has been involved in acts that are unimaginable even in a nightmare in Bangladesh’s diplomatic endeavors.
He is alleged to have escorted an Indian Army General in his official car with the Indian flag flying! In a function to mark Mujibnagar Day, he ordered the national anthem of India to be played together with those of Bangladesh and Nepal. Then there are allegations against him of moral misconduct. The Ambassador dismissed such allegations as “conspiracy against him.” The Foreign Secretary played the allegations down when he told a journalist that he will know about the Ministry’s action at the right time.
The Ambassador in question is a former teacher of BUET and from the minority community. One wonders whether he was chosen for the job because of the latter reason. If that is the case, it would be an irony because the ruling party is firmly committed to secularism. Even Nepal that is a Hindu country has unofficially expressed its desire that the Ambassador should be withdrawn post haste because of his undesirable activities.
In case of both the Permanent Representative in New York and the Ambassador in Nepal, it is very much possible that the media may have not produced the correct stories or may have twisted facts while reporting. Nevertheless, wrong perceptions have come out into the open concerning their alleged activities that may affect Bangladesh’s diplomatic relations with countries very important to its foreign policy priorities. Hence it is imperative for the Foreign Ministry to be more transparent and pro-active with what both the Ambassadors did. Thus far it has acted indecisively and has not shown any indication that matters are in its hands.
There was another embarrassing incident involving the Bangladesh Ambassador to Japan. The case was one of sexual harassment. That case too was allowed to linger too long. According to media reports, he has since been brought home after an investigation was conducted to the allegations against him that proved that the Ambassador was at fault.
The Japanese are sophisticated and cultured and do not express their displeasure forcefully. Nevertheless, it would be foolhardy for the Bangladesh Government to expect that the Ambassador’s extremely serious and unethical and immoral discretions would be forgotten just because we are inclined to forget it.
Indiscretions and immoral acts by anyone are human errors. Nevertheless, Ambassadors cannot commit the errors of which our Ambassadors stand accused because such errors embarrass the nation and seriously puts at risk important national interests. When Ambassadors are so accused, the sending country does not have the time on its side to deal with such cases at its convenience. In diplomacy, a correct way to deal with the errors that our Ambassadors have committed is to bring them home for “consultations” while investigating/examining the allegations.
In case of our Ambassador in Japan, the Foreign Ministry should have brought him home for consultations as soon as the allegations were made. The long delay has most definitely given Japan the wrong perception about our country and government. It is incredible that the Ambassador in Nepal is still in his post. The PR in New York has flagged the dangers of appointing a non-career Ambassador to one of Bangladesh’s most important diplomatic posts without giving him the necessary briefing about the imperatives of Bangladesh’s diplomacy. His faux pas is too serious to be explained away as the Foreign Minister has done as an “unscheduled” meeting.
There is an urgent and imperative need to review the process of appointment of Ambassadors and the way they act in their posts to save the country’s frail image and for the sake of achieving Bangladesh’s foreign policy goals. It seems that the Foreign Ministry’s role in the appointment and supervision of Ambassadors has weakened considerably. It is time that rationality is restored by giving the Foreign Ministry the power and clout to deal with Ambassadors to make them professional and competent. One suspects that politics is partly responsible for the damages the Ambassadors have done to Bangladesh and are being allowed to continue doing. That needs to end in haste for the sake of the country.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and a Director, Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies.